The Government’s Anti-Bullying Campaign Is Failing and The Children Are Paying For It - Edriss Yassine
Bullying has become a huge part of American society and is harming the health of our children. The National Institutes of Health defines bullying as the act of repeatedly trying to harm someone who is perceived to be weaker either by direct attacks, such as hitting or taunting, or indirectly, such as spreading rumors (1). Every 7 minutes a child is bullied on a school playground, every months 3 million students are absent from school because they feel unsafe and an estimated 18 million children will be bullied in the United States this year alone (2). There are four main types of bullying: verbal bullying, name-calling or teasing, relational bullying, spreading rumors or social isolation, physical bullying, hitting or being pushed, and cyber bullying though social media and the internet (3). In order to try to stop these harmful events, the United States government has poured millions of dollars into its anti-bullying campaign called stopbullying.gov but has not accomplished the goal it has set out to do. On its website, the campaign gives an overview of the bullying crisis, how to look for it, and most importantly, how to try to prevent it. However, the advice and techniques suggested by the campaign are flawed and are not working because bullying is still a huge issue today. The stopbullying.gov campaign emphasizes three main points to stop bullying. First, they suggest that parents should act as role models to their children and set a good example for their children to follow. They hope that the children will mimic their parents and bullying will stop. Second, they suggest that parents and teachers set a bully report system and simply tell them to stop it when they see it. Lastly, they suggest that parents, teachers and the community try to change the bully’s attitude by using peer groups and interventions. The three main points that the campaign emphasizes in order to stop bullying are failing because they employ the individual level behavior change models called the Social Learning Theory, the Theory of Reasoned Action and the Transtheoretical Model. These theories are flawed and tend not to work because they try to predict behavior on an individual level and assume that people are rational, however we know that is not the case and that we behave in fundamentally irrational ways as presented in the book Predictably Irrational (4). This paper will explain why the stopbullying.gov campaign is not working and propose new suggestions on how to improve the campaign using group level behavior change models such as the Social Expectations Theory, the Psychological Reactance Theory and the Diffusion of Innovations Theory and the power of social media, television and celebrities.
Parents Are Not As Good Of Role Models As They Think
The first suggestion to stop bullying by the stopbullying.gov campaign states that if parents get more involved in their children’s lives and act as role models by teaching them how to be nice to others and show compassion, then their children will mimic them and do the same, helping eliminate bullying. This rational is based on the individual behavior change model known as The Social Learning Theory. The SLT was developed in 1977 by Albert Bandura and is based on the concept of modeling and states that individuals will model what they see others doing (5). The campaign is under the impression that this individual model will work because parents are good role models to their children and they will teach them important core values when it comes to showing compassion to others. However, psychologist Richard Weissbourd tells us that parents who are obsessed with their children’s happiness usually ignore important values like goodness, empathy, appreciation and caring (6). Therefore, if parents are ignoring to teach their children the critical core values needed to show compassion to others and help stop bullying, their children cannot mimic them and bullying will continue. Furthermore, a study conducted by researchers at the University of California San Diego in the Journal of Moral Education show that parents constantly lie to their children while teaching them that lying is unacceptable (7). This further supports the claim that parents are not good role models to their children because they are hypocritical and most of the time the children know about it. If the SLT is followed and the children learn and mimic their parents, then the children will not learn good core values that will help stop bullying, instead they will learn their parents’ bad habits. Due to the campaign’s flawed assumptions that parents are good role models so children will mimic their good behaviors and will show compassion toward others and the fact that the SLT is weak because it is an individual level behavior model, the first suggestion by the campaign will not work to change the bully’s behavior.
Reporting Systems and Telling Kids to Just Stop It Will Not Change Their Behavior
The second suggestion to stop bullying by the stopbullying.gov campaign states that if parents and teachers create a bully reporting system and tell the bullies to just stop it when they see bullying happening will create an atmosphere where bullying will stop due to the adult telling them to. This rationale is flawed and will not work because it is based on the individual level behavior model known as The Theory of Reasoned Action. The TRA was developed in the late 1970’s by Ajzen and Fishbein and states that behavior can be predicted because it is a balance between outcome expectancies and social norms. Once the balance is tipped one way or the other and it leads to intention, behavior will always happen (8,9). The campaign does not take into consideration certain things that heavily influence the TRA like the child’s need to fit in, peer pressure, social norms and the fact that children tend to act as groups and not individuals, which influence the outcome expectancies and the social norms in the TRA scale. Psychotherapist Dr. Russell Hyken shows that as early as kindergarten, children understand the concept of social norms and begin to form cliques and also because of expectations and peer pressure, they begin to exclude certain people from their groups (10). Furthermore, once the children belong to a clique, they are protected from the torment of others and they will do anything to stay in the clique, even if it means not reporting one of their friends for fear of retaliation or the fear of being bullied themselves. Andrew Matthews, a successful author and public speaker on attitude, success, happiness and prosperity, states that for every ten children who are being bullied, only one tells their parents (11). With statistics like these, the bully reporting system proposed will not work because not enough kids will be reporting bullying in order to make a difference. Also, telling a bully to just stop will not elicit an effect especially in front of their friends because they will act out against it to stay popular. Because the TRA is an individual model and children tend to stick together as groups, the use of this model will not work to stop bullying because one must try to change the group as a whole and not just the individual.
Bullies Are Not Like Drug Addicts
The third suggestion to stop bullying proposed by the stopbullying.gov campaign states that the bully’s mind can be changed with the use of peer groups and interventions. This rationale is flawed and will not work because it is based on the individual level behavior model known as the Transtheoretical Model. The Transtheoretical Model was developed in the early 1990’s by Prochaska and DiClemente and states that a health behavior is adopted through stages that people go through one step at a time. Those stages are pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance (12). Using the TTM, A person starts from the beginning and goes through each stage, one at a time, until they reach the end. Because this model is predominantly used to treat drug addiction, I believe that this approach singles out the bullies and treats them like drug addicts. The effects of isolating someone out may be drastic and potentially harmful. According to the Mayo Clinic, isolation may worsen the situation and make the person feel attacked, more isolated and resistant to treatment (13). Furthermore, another downside to the Transtheoretical Model is that if people slip and fall off, they may not just fall one step, they may fall all the way back down to the beginning. This is dangerous because sources have showed that relapse is common with TTM and should be expected (14). When a bully relapses, they may be even more aggressive than the first time in order to take out their aggressions and the victims will get the blunt of the force. Due to these reasons, this type of intervention will not work to change the behavior of bullies.
Intervention With The Use of Social Media, Television and Celebrities
The current intervention put forth by the United States government in their stopbullying.gov campaign is failing and in order to save children from the future torment of bullying and in order to make their lives better, a new intervention must be put in place. My proposed intervention to replace the current one is the launch of a new campaign that focuses on bullying through the use of group level alternative models, social media and television using celebrities. According to the Nielsen Co., the largest television rating and research company in the world, an average person spends 20% of their day watching television (15). If you do the math, in a 24-hour day, a person watches television for 4.8 hours of it and that is a lot. Furthermore, according to an article in the Bloomberg Report, Americans spend an average of 6.5 hours a day online, mainly on social networks (16). Thirdly, the influential power of celebrities cannot be underestimated. Usually, when a celebrity backs something, the population follows. For example, in a recent article, Forbes talked about the power of persuasion that celebrity comic Conan O’Brien has over the public. Conan announced his national tour via Twitter with a single tweet and within 2 hours, the 32 city, national tour was completely sold out (17). Therefore, by using these enormously popular media outlets and celebrities, we can move away from changing the individual directly to changing the individual though changing the masses. The three new interventions will incorporate the group level alternate models of behavior of the Social Expectations Theory, the Psychological Reactance Theory, and the Diffusion of Innovations Theory by having children mimic the popular children at school instead of their parents, using psychological reactance to get kids to report bullies by reducing peer pressure and changing social norms, and finally, using the influential power of the masses to change the bully’s mind instead of singling them out. The first campaign that we will launch will be called “New Friend For The Day”, followed by the use of psychological reactance and lastly, a campaign called “No More Pain”.
Popular Kids Stop Bullying By Example, Not Parents
The government’s first way to stop bullying, by having parents set a good example and kids mimicking them is not working. As an alternative, my first proposed intervention that will work in the prevention of bullying uses a group level alternative model called the Social Expectations Theory and the use of social media by the more popular kids in school. The SET was developed by Perkins and Berkowitz in the late 1980’s and states that we can create massive change by changing social norms (18). Changing the behavior of the masses by changing the social norms is much more powerful than having the children try to mimic their parents who are not good role models in the first place. In this intervention, we will launch a “New Friend For The Day” campaign on Facebook and target it toward the popular kids at school like the athletes. The goal of this campaign will be to have the popular athletes befriend a bullied kid in order to change the stigma that these bullied kids are different and by hanging out with them for a day, that these kids will become friends with them for a longer period of time. On this Facebook page the popular kids can share their stories of what they learned after befriending one of these kids. We can have people like the captains of the football and basketball team start posting to this site and then eventually when others read the stories of these kids, they will be inspired to do the same. This will eventually change the masses and therefore change the mindset of the bullies by changing the social norm. We can see that popular kids befriending bullied kids stops bullying by looking at the example at Queen Creek High School that occurred a couple of months ago. At this high school there was a young girl with a brain disorder who was tormented at school everyday and always went home crying. The quarterback of the Queen Creek football team befriended her after seeing what these bullies were doing and she has not been bullied ever since (19). The whole football team eats lunch with her and keeps an eye on her while she is at school. She was quoted in the news by saying “They’re not mean to me anymore, because all my boys love me” (19). The high school football team changed the minds of the masses and the bullies by changing the social norm and making it acceptable to have friends with disabilities. Since it worked in situations like Queen Creek High School, it will work at an even larger scale using a highly frequented site like Facebook and the “New Friend For The Day” campaign.
Report Bullies By Telling Kids Not To Do Anything
The government’s second way to stop bullying by creating a bully report system and telling kids to just stop it is not working. As an alternative intervention, I propose that we use the Psychological Reactance Theory teamed up with television and celebrities to tell kids to not do anything when they see bullying happening. The PRT was developed by J.W Brehm in 1966 and states that when peoples’ sense of control is taken away from them, they are programmed to get that control back (20). For example, when people are told what to do, they perceive it as their freedom being taken away, so in order to regain their freedom, they do the opposite of what they are told. We can see the use of psychological reactance in the commercial for the 2008 elections in order to try to get people to vote. In this commercial, famous celebrities continuously tell people that they should not vote for various reasons (21). However, this commercial used psychological reactance to help do the complete opposite and helped influence the public to vote and voter turnout was pretty high for the elections. We can use the same concept in our campaign by using famous musicians and actors that children look up to. These commercials can be aired during the shows that’s kids watch the most in order to make sure that they see them and we will have the actors and musicians tell the kids not to do anything and not to report it when they see bullying happening no matter how badly the bullied kids are being hurt. This, in turn, will invoke psychological reactance because they are being told what not to do and they will do the opposite and start reporting bullying and will help teachers and parents resolve the bullying issue. Because their freedom is being taken away, their minds will not focus on their cliques and fitting in, instead they will be trying to get their freedom back no matter what the consequences. We can see the results of trying to get ones freedom back at any cost in an article by Doob and Zabrack (22). In their experiment, the people whom were sent a questionnaire along with $20 and were forcibly told to finish the questionnaire did just the exact opposite and returned a blank questionnaire and the $20. Those who were kindly asked to fill it out without any money offered, did so without question. Therefore, if these people returned free money that they could have kept just because of psychological reactance, then the children will not think about the consequences of reporting a bully as long as they get their freedom back. By using psychological reactance instead of the originally proposed intervention using the TRA, We will be able to implement an intervention that will really work and take the kids’ mind’s off of what will happen if they report bullying.
Change Bullies By Changing The Masses
The government’s third way of dealing with the bully situation by using peer groups and interventions is not working because it is singling out the bullies and treating them like drug addicts. As an alternative intervention, I propose that we use the Diffusion of Innovations theory along with more social media and television ads using celebrities in order to change the stigma about bullying. The Diffusion of Innovations theory was proposed by Rogers in 1962 and states that you don’t have to worry about changing an individual, instead if you can reach a critical mass, the masses will tip and change the group as a whole (23). The theory uses the key concepts of knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation and confirmation. Although it was originally used for situations like vaccinations, it can also be applied to bullying. The campaign will be called “No More Pain” and will air in prime time on television and use social media to spread the word about the pain that bullying is causing and to help change the stigma about bullying. According to the Anti-Bullying blog, there are a lot of famous and influential people who were bullied as children (24). The campaign will use these famous actors and musicians that the kids look up to and aspire to be and they can spread the message about working together to change the stigma about bullying. We will also have these actors who were bullied during childhood share their stories in order to give the bullied kids hope that they can be successful despite bullying. According to the theory, as the celebrities’ message sinks in and the public’s opinion slowly starts to change, it will reach a tipping point and then dramatically increase and change the mindset of the group as a whole and not have to worry about the individual. We can see an example of this in the mental health campaign called “Bring Change 2 Mind” (25). This campaign is using famous celebrities in advertisements to help change the stigma of mental illness. Their use of commercials has helped to start a dramatic change in the public opinion about mental illness and it is working effectively. If this campaign is using this technique to help bring change and it is effective, then the same can be said about using it for our bullying campaign. This intervention has a tremendous advantage over the original one in that it has no risk of bullies falling off the plan and reverting back to their old ways because it eliminates the step-by-step process of the Transtheoretical Model. Furthermore, it does not single out anyone and will not make them feel defensive in anyway and help prevent retaliation.
The government’s stopbullying.gov campaign is not effective and is failing. It proposes that bullying be stopped by children mimicking bad role models, face the potential consequences of reporting bullying individually and trying to change bully’s minds by singling them out and treating them like drug addicts. It is because of their use of individual behavior models such as the Social Learning Theory, the Theory of Reasoned Action and the Transtheoretical Model that their resolutions are not effective. Overall these models are weak and will not help bring change because they assume that behavior is rational and reasoned and that they can change the individual. Instead, a new program should be implemented that uses group level alternative models that will work, for example, the Social Expectations Theory, the Psychological Reactance Theory and the Diffusion of Innovations Theory. These models are strong and more effective than the individual models because they take into consideration that people are not rational and behavior is better changed using groups instead of individuals. The alternative propositions like the “New Friend For The Day” campaign, telling kids not to do anything and the “No More Pain” campaign will use the power of social media, television and celebrities to influence and change the stigma of bullying as a mass instead of individually. The influential power of famous celebrities cannot be taken lightly. Due to people spending so much time a day sitting in front of their televisions or on the internet, they are more familiar with celebrities and what is going on with them than any other thing going on in the world currently. Therefore, harnessing that power and using it for the greater good is the way to go. I believe that if the original propositions are laid to rest and the new proposed ideas are implemented, then bullying will significantly decrease and the lives of millions of children will be much better than they are now and the world will be a better place because of it.
1. "Bullying: MedlinePlus." U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/bullying.html
2. "National Association of Elementary School Principals: Serving All Elementary and Middle-level Principals." Bullying Prevention Resources. http://www.naesp.org/bullying-prevention-resources
3. Wayne, J., Ionnatti, R.J. & Nansel, T.R. (2009) School bullying among adolescents in the United States: Physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. Journal of Adolescent Health. 45:4, 368-75.
4. Ariely, Dan. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2008. Print.
5. McLeod, S. A. (2011). Albert Bandura | Social Learning Theory. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html
6. Weissbourd, Rick. The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-intentioned Adults Undermine Children's Moral and Emotional Development. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. Print.
7. Heyman G. et al. Parenting by lying. Journal of Moral Education. Vol 38(3), 353-369
8. Ajzen, I. & Fishbein, M. (1980). Understanding attitudes and
predicting social behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
9. Fishbein, M. & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, attitude, intention, and behavior: An introduction to theory and research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley
10. Hyken, Russell. "Bullying Knows No Age |." EPS. N.p., 2012. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://ed-psy.com/2012/10/26/bullying-knows-no-age/
11. Matthews, Andrew. "Cyber-Bullying: Why Bullied Kids Dont Tell Their Parents." Andrew Matthews. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2012, http://www.andrewmatthews.com/bullying-articles.php
12. Prochaska, J.O., DiClemente, C.C., & Norcross, J.C. (1992). In Search of How People Change. Applications to Addictive Behaviors. American Psychologist, 47, 1102-1113.
13. Mayo Clinic Staff. "Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 Aug. 2011. Web. 13 Dec. 2012.
15. "Sports Psychology: The Importance of Long-term Behaviour When Creating a Nutrition Plan." Peak Performance Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/sports-psychology-the-importance-of-long-term-behaviour-when-creating-a-nutrition-plan-41837.
16. "Television Measurement." Nielson Company. Nielson Company, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/measurement/television-measurement.html
17. "Facebook U.S. User Tally, Time Spent Online Rises." Bloomberg. N.p., 11 June 2012. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-11/facebook-u-s-user-tally-time-spent-rose-in-june-comscore-says.html
18. Cohen, Reuven. "Marketing Influence: The Power of Persuasion." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 22 May 2012. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/reuvencohen/2012/05/22/marketing-influence-the-power-of-persuasion/
19. H. Wesley Perkins and Alan Berkowitz. "Perceiving the community norms of alcohol use among students: Some research implications for campus alcohol education programming." International Journal of the Addictions, 1986:21, 961-976.
20. Dicker, Ron. "Queen Creek High School Football Players Protect Chy Johnson, Bullied Student With Special Needs." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 29 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/queen-creek-football-players_n_2039212.html
21. Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. New York: Academic Press.
22. "WARNING: DON'T VOTE." YouTube. YouTube, 02 Oct. 2008. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8y1e-z1JA0
23. Doob, Anthony N.; Zabrack, Merle. The effect of freedom-threatening instructions and monetary inducement on compliance. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science vol 3. Oct 1971. Pg 408-412
24. Rogers, Everett Mitchell. Diffusion of Innovations. N.p.: Free P. of Glencoe; Macmillan (N.Y.), 1962. Print
25. "Celebrities Who Were Bullied As Kids." The Anti-Bullying Blog. N.p., 06 Jan. 2010. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://antibullyingblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/celebrities-who-were-bullied-as-kids.html
26. "Take the Bring Change 2 Mind Pledge." Bring Change 2 Mind. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://bringchange2mind.org/